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Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley has welcomed agreement by the Health Committee to see extra time with the Minister to scrutinise the Department of Health's response to Covid-19 including plans for the vaccination programme.

Mr Buckley raised concerns at this morning's meeting when only 30 minutes were available for members of the Committee to question the Minister, Chief Medical Officer and Patricia Donnelly who is leading the Department of Health's vaccination programme.

Speaking afterwards the DUP MLA said, "Everyone appreciates the demands placed upon the Minister's time and the Committee has appreciated the fact he has appeared to give evidence regularly. However, the Committee’s role is not to be briefed by the Minister but to scrutinise and question both him and officials from the Department. Indeed, such scrutiny by the Committee and the Assembly should be the primary way in which the public can be assured that Ministers are held to account.

After raising my concerns today I was heartened to receive support from across all political parties, but it was clear that members felt it had been an ongoing problem for some months now.

The Committee is now seeking additional time with the Minister. We do now have a roadmap to move beyond this pandemic, but it is vital that the Department's vaccination plans are robustly scrutinised. I would hope the Minister will respond positively to this cross-party request.

Vice-Chair of the Committee Pam Cameron added, “Today’s meeting was intended to be an opportunity to enter into substantive discussion with the Minister and his officials in relation to plans to roll out the vaccine in the coming days.

I am disappointed that scrutiny was scant at best, as the time and space allocated to Committee members to raise concerns was heavily restricted. On an issue of such importance this shouldn’t be the case.

At a time when representatives of our care home residents and the public more generally are seeking clarity on how the vaccine will be administered, to whom, as well as when and where, it is vital that the Committee continues to offer a listening ear and active voice for the questions and concerns that matter.”